You can bet money that enriched flour is the number one ingredient in everything from crackers to cereal to bread to pastries. Being labeled as "enriched" sounds like this particular type of flour offers more nutrients than regular flour, but then why does it have such a devilish reputation?
Let's start at the beginning. A whole grain of wheat (known as a wheat berry) is made up of three layers — the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. To make white flour, the bran — which contains fiber, protein, and trace minerals — is removed as well as the germ, which contains B vitamins and trace minerals. The germ also contains a percentage of the grain's fat, so another reason it's removed is to increase the flour's shelf life, which means less wasted food for companies.
What's left is the endosperm, which is ground into flour. It has a slightly yellowish color, so the flour is then bleached using chemicals such as chlorine or benzoyl peroxide to oxidize the flour, giving it that pure white hue. And since many of the nutrients are destroyed in this big process, it's then enriched with B vitamins, iron, and sometimes calcium. As you can see from the nutritional comparison below, even though enriched flour has similar amounts of vitamins and minerals, whole wheat flour offers more fiber and protein for fewer calories. It also beats out unbleached all-purpose flour, which is commonly used for homemade breads, cookies, and cakes.
|1 ounce bleached enriched white flour||1 ounce unbleached all-purpose white flour||1 ounce unbleached whole wheat flour|
|Total fat (grams)||0||0||1|
|Calcium (grams)||5.6 (1%)||4.2 (0%)||9.5 (1%)|
|Folate (micrograms)||47.6 (12%)||51.2 (13%)||12.3 (3%)|
|Iron (milligrams)||1.4 (8%)||1.3 (7%)||1.1 (6 %)|
|Magnesium (milligrams)||5.6 (1%)||6.2 (2%)||38.6 (10%)|
|Manganese (milligrams)||.2 (9%)||.2 (9%)||1.1 (53%)|
|Potassium (grams)||36.7 (1%)||30 (1%)||113 (3%)|
|Vitamin A (international units)||0 (0%)||.6 (0%)||2.5 (0%)|
|Vitamin B6 (milligrams)||0 (1%)||0 (1%)||.1 (5%)|
|Thiamin (milligrams)||.2 (14%)||.2 (14%)||.1 (8%)|
|Zinc (milligrams)||.3 (2%)||.2 (1%)||229 (286%)|
From a nutritional perspective, whole wheat flour is the way to go, something to keep in mind the next time you hit up the grocery store. Read labels carefully and choose foods that are made with whole wheat flour, not enriched flour. Don't be fooled by foods that sound healthy such as "whole grain crackers" or "wheat bagels" — some of these can be enriched flour in disguise. And when you're in your own kitchen, for maximum fiber and protein, whenever possible, choose whole wheat flour over all-purpose flour to make your recipes healthier.